When government-haters govern: Scott Walker and the WEDC

In my mind, the ongoing troubles at Scott Walker’s WEDC could only stem from the sensibilities of an anti-government governor who came into office earnestly believing Madison is the problem and then almost immediately set out to prove it. For some reason, I can’t help but picture a cabal of government-scorning zealots, well into their cups, sitting around a table hatching ways to undermine their own agency, erupting in bawdy laughter and micturating their Ayn Rand Underoos at the mention of each new fantastical scheme.

“Hey, what if we just plain don’t bother to track loan repayments? Like, um … wait, wait, wait … we just give these companies money and forget about it. You know, like no business has ever done, ever?”

Really, how else to explain such rank incompetence at our governor’s cornerstone job-creation agency? It’s almost as if they were trying to screw up this much-ballyhooed “public-private partnership” from day one – like a bunch of ether-besotted mad scientists splicing monkey and Michele Bachmann DNA into an otherwise normal human ovum.

The latest headlines since we last tuned in? John Gillespie, the agency’s manager of public information, resigned just a month after being hired when it was revealed he was on the state’s delinquent taxpayer list. On Thursday, the agency also endured a four-and-a-half-hour “roasting” during a public hearing in front of the Legislative Audit Committee, according to Dee J. Hall’s report in the Wisconsin State Journal.

That story, headlined “Jobs agency faces loss of funding,” also reported on a measure approved by the Legislature’s budget committee that would require the WEDC to correct some of the flaws revealed in the recent Legislative Audit Bureau review of the agency or lose funding.

But that’s selling short Hall’s story, which included an uproarious series of gags and one-liners worthy of a real Friars Club roast.

Some excerpts:

The measure also would require WEDC employees to comply with state ethics laws and file annual statements of economic interest. The agency also would be required to follow state purchasing rules.

[WEDC Interim CEO Reed] Hall said he stands by WEDC’s claim that it has created 24,000 jobs since it was launched in July 2011. But the audit bureau found that the agency had failed to verify any of the job claims made by companies. “We found the WEDC did not conduct any verification efforts from July 2011 through December 2012 and had no plans to do so,” State Auditor Joe Chrisman told the committee.

“I do not think we should be rewarding an agency that repeatedly broke the law with more money,” said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee.

Funny stuff. I might also add, “Take my governor – please.”

Let’s quickly summarize:

Regarding excerpt 1: Duh.

Regarding the job-creation numbers referenced in excerpt 2: Yeah, it goes without saying that you can’t simply throw out a number with no evidence to support it and expect it to be accurate. Wisconsinites have come to expect good governance, and such arbitrary guesstimates can hardly stand up to the kind of scientific rigor we require of our state’s executive branch. How do I know that? I have an IQ of 24,000.

Regarding excerpt 3: Duh, part deux.



During the hearing, Democrats also cited the state’s low ranking in the rate of job creation (44th in the nation and dropping like Rush Limbaugh’s mansierre), claiming it points up the WEDC’s failures. Of course, that’s not entirely fair. That ranking may have more to do with some of Walker’s other stupid decisions – like undercutting public workers’ ability to spend and turning down federal transportation funds – than with his deeply dysfunctional job-creation agency.

To their credit, Republicans are also excoriating the agency, at least in public. Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said, “We are equally as outraged, equally as disappointed, equally as shocked by a lot of the transgressions that we found in the audit. We are keeping money in our coffers until WEDC comes back and proves point by point by point by point what they have changed.” (Hopefully, Republicans in the Legislature can remain as outraged over this debacle as they were over the UW System’s healthy surplus.)

The beat goes on, and we’ll no doubt soon see if there’s more slimy iceberg under this tip. Suffice to say, this is not an example of good government at work. But then why would you ever expect people who don’t really like government to govern well?

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